Hollow victory;Leading Article;Opinion

30th July 1999 at 01:00
Once again, the Education Secretary David Blunkett has come out robustly in support of the school inspection service, OFSTED, and its controversial boss Chris Woodhead.

Yesterday, Mr Blunkett rejected calls to curb the independent voice of the chief inspector, arguing that it is his job - indeed his duty - to speak "plainly and openly about the strengths and weaknesses identified through inspection". On the face of it, this is game, set and match to the Chris Woodhead, and a defeat for the MPs who sought to rein him in (page 1). But there is plenty in the Government's response which indicates concerns regarding OFSTED. The Education Secretary has made clear he wants to see improvements in the quality of the inspection service, and he supports the MPs' call for Government auditors to investigate whether OFSTED is giving good value for money.

Ministers are right to veto the idea of a board of commissioners to bring Mr Woodhead to heel. The independence of the chief inspector is a crucial constitutional issue - and Chris Woodhead won't be there for ever. In spite of his recent performance-related bonus, there are signs that his influence may be on the wane.

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